Archived Posts August 2007 | Acton PowerBlog

It turns out that the Chinese were really thinking ahead back in 1979 when they implemented their one child policy. After all, imagine what their carbon emissions would be today if they hadn’t:

The number of births avoided equals the entire population of the United States. Beijing says that fewer people means less demand for energy and lower emissions of heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels.

“This is only an illustration of the actions we have taken,” said Su Wei, a senior Foreign Ministry official heading China’s delegation to the 158-nation talks from Aug 27-31.

He told Reuters that Beijing was not arguing that its policy was a model for others to follow in a global drive to avert ever more chaotic weather patterns, droughts, floods, erosion and rising ocean levels.

But avoiding 300 million births “means we averted 1.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2005″ based on average world per capital emissions of 4.2 tonnes, he said.

Well thank goodness we dodged that bullet. The link is from Hot Air, which notes that China’s strategy is “brilliant”:

Expect more of this in the future — human rights abusers being criticized by the international community for dubious practices and parrying the thrust with an appeal to the left’s tippy-top-most social virtue.

In a somewhat similar vein, yesterday brought word that all is not well in the world of leftist activism – a conflict is brewing between animal rights activists and the climate change crowd:

According to an interesting piece that ran in yesterday’s New York Times, animal rights groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) argue that being a meat-eating environmentalist–like Al–is an oxymoron… As writer Claudia H. Deutsch points out, the groups have compelling ammo to back it up: last November the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization released a startling report revealing that the livestock business generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined.

The common thread in these stories? That humans are, simply put, a problem: we consume too much and emit too much in doing so, and if only there were a great deal fewer of us, things would get a lot better. It’s a very static worldview, allowing adherents to make no allowance for technological advances or scientific discoveries that may mitigate or entirely solve the problems that they fret about. In reality, it comes dangerously close to what Jordan Ballor described as The Matrix Anthropology, which is summed up by the words of Agent Smith, a villain in that film:

I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure.

Jordan concludes that post thusly:

This comes, of course, from a piece of software representing the machines who view humans as essentially batteries and feed the liquidated dead to the living. It is perhaps not the best anthropological foundation to adopt.

Perhaps.

While lifeguarding during the summer of my college years, I remember an attractive young woman who worked with me who complained she could not meet any guys at her school, The University of Notre Dame. I inquired further, figuring it to be the beginning of a punch line to a joke. She noted the problem as being young male students, and their over-interest in video games. Maybe you have seen the bumper stickers which declare, “It is never too late to have a happy childhood.” Diana West, a Washington Times columnist, just released her new book, Death of the Grown-up: How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization.

In an interview with FrontPage Magazine, West discusses some of her ideas about the perpetual adolescent but shifts into the subject of the War on Terror. West herself notes in the interview with FrontPage:

The extent to which social and cultural distinctions between children and adults–who dress the same, all say “cool,” and even watch cartoons–had disappeared. I began to realize I was witnessing at a personal level the same displays of perpetual adolescence in reluctant adults around me (“I’m too young to be called ‘mister’ “) that I was observing in society at large.

But then it hit me: The death of the grown-up was quite suddenly much more than a theory to explain a largely academic culture war; it applied directly and, I thought, most urgently to what had shockingly become a real culture war between the West and Islam–a civilizational struggle that our society doesn’t want to acknowledge precisely, I argue, because of society’s extremely immature, in fact, downright childish, nature.

In the interview, West also makes the connection between socialist dogma and adolescent behavior, noting:

In considering the strong links between an increasingly paternalistic nanny state and the death of the grown-up, I found that Tocqueville (of course) had long ago made the connections. He tried to imagine under what conditions despotism could come to the United States. He came up with a vision of the nation characterized, on the one hand, by an “innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls,” and, on the other, by the “immense protective power” of the state.

Continuing with the Tocqueville portrayal of a possible despotism in America, she says:

“It would resemble parental authority if, fatherlike, it tried to prepare its charges for a man’s life, but, on the contrary, it only tries to keep them in perpetual childhood.” Perhaps the extent to which we, liberals and conservatives alike, have acquiesced to our state’s parental authority shows how far along we, as a culture, have reached Tocqueville’s state of “perpetual childhood.”

West argues that the end of grown-up culture cripples the West’s ability to understand the Islamist threat, and its desire for globalist expansion. She surmises, “The struggle underway between the West and Islam begins and ends in the world of pretend.” She believes political correctness, multicultural, “non-judgmental” beliefs hinder the ability to respond to the threat, and she calls this “bedtime story” belief “absurd.”

It will be left to the reader to determine whether the author is accurate in asserting that behavior and symptoms of the adolescent culture are a threat to the West’s ability to defend itself. In addition, the reader will have to decide if all facets and followers of Islam are inherently dangerous to freedom and Western Civilization, which she seems to imply.

It looks like her publication will be a clear confrontation of clashing ideologies, without the nuances, and usual compromises, allowing readers to take her side or another. On a related note, in seminary I had a couple of professors who railed against ‘Constantinianism,’ and told us to embrace an absolute pacifism. In class I asked another professor what he thought about this and gave an impassioned address about Charles Martel and his victory at the battle of Tours in 732 A.D., which saved Western Europe from an Islamic invasion, thus preserving Christianity. Passionately noting, “not all facets of Christianity dubbed Constantinian is valueless or corrupt.”

Every generation in very general terms seems to think that the generation that follows has lost its way. On a lighter note, I think that living in the Deep South caused me to have a higher respect for elders and a higher esteem for the value of manners. That’s why I resisted the suggestions of some professors who said we were permitted to use their first names. Incidentally, when I first moved to Mississippi, it took a little while to get use to calling my teachers in high school, “sir or ma’m.”

West certainly believes the baby boom culture and its multicultural zeal, along with its inability to know or define a shared sense of value has hurt us. At the same time, my brother being a Marine and Iraqi war veteran, has allowed me a greater opportunity to get to know other current combat veterans and their stories. Many of them share a stronger bond with what was dubbed “The Greatest Generation,” embodying a quiet courage and selfless sacrifice. These veterans stand in sharp contrast to the pop culture’s glorification of celebrities, narcissism, and selfishness.

Hunter Baker has a new column at ChristianityToday.com named “Evangelical Minds,” and in it he examines issues of evangelical interest in academics and higher education. Today’s piece quotes me at some length on the question of evangelicals and economics, related to the firing of a professor at Colorado Christian University (scroll down to the final section titled, “Christian Economics?”).

This piece is the third installment of the feature, and you can check out the first two here and here.

Here’s your broad, strong agreement among scientists:

In 2004, history professor Naomi Oreskes performed a survey of research papers on climate change. Examining peer-reviewed papers published on the ISI Web of Science database from 1993 to 2003, she found a majority supported the “consensus view,” defined as humans were having at least some effect on global climate change. Oreskes’ work has been repeatedly cited, but as some of its data is now nearly 15 years old, its conclusions are becoming somewhat dated.

Medical researcher Dr. Klaus-Martin Schulte recently updated this research. Using the same database and search terms as Oreskes, he examined all papers published from 2004 to February 2007. The results have been submitted to the journal Energy and Environment, of which DailyTech has obtained a pre-publication copy. The figures are surprising.

Of 528 total papers on climate change, only 38 (7%) gave an explicit endorsement of the consensus. If one considers “implicit” endorsement (accepting the consensus without explicit statement), the figure rises to 45%. However, while only 32 papers (6%) reject the consensus outright, the largest category (48%) are neutral papers, refusing to either accept or reject the hypothesis. This is no “consensus.”

And here’s your incontrovertible scientific evidence:

For a weatherman who has spent most of his career in front of a TV camera or radio microphone, Anthony Watts was a little concerned about speaking in front of dozens of scientists.
“Although I’m great at giving a weather forecast, I’m a little rusty giving a scientific presentation,” Watts said Friday.

During a scientific workshop this week in Boulder, Colo., Watts presented his research on hundreds of weather stations used to help monitor the nation’s climate.

The preliminary results show Watts and his volunteers have surveyed about a quarter of the 1,221 stations making up the U.S. Historical Climatology Network. Of those, more than half appear to fall short of federal guidelines for optimum placement.

Some examples include weather stations placed near sewage treatment plants, parking lots, and near cars, buildings and air-conditioners — all artificial heat sources which could affect temperature records…

…The research received new prominence, being cited in articles and commentary on global warming after a recent recalculation of global and U.S. temperatures at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. After adjusting for a discrepancy between two weather data sets, the recalculated data showed that 1934 was the “hottest year” on record for the United States, rather than 1998.

Although the change was a slim fraction of degree, Watts expressed concern that the numbers being talked about by the media and the public may not be fully accurate. He said his goal is to ensure the science is correct.

It’s upon this type of evidence and strong consensus that climate change alarmists want to reshape society and create massive economic disruption. Are we really sure that’s a good idea?

Readings in Social Ethics: Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis.References below are to page numbers.

  • This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first publication of Christianity and the Social Crisis, and a new centenary edition has been released this month by HarperSanFrancisco and includes responses to each chapter from figures such as Jim Wallis, Tony Camplo, Cornel West, Richard Rorty, Stanley Hauerwas, and others.

  • R’s introduction to the American situation: “We have now arrived, and all the characteristic conditions of American life will henceforth combine to make the social struggle here more intense than anywhere else. The vastness and the free sweep of our concentrated wealth on the one side, the independence, intelligence, moral vigor, and political power of the common people on the other side, promise a long-drawn grapple of contesting forces which may well make the heart of every American patriot sink within him” (xi-xii).
  • Religion, specifically Christianity, is a vital force in the coming social conflict between rich and poor: “It follows that the relation between Christianity and the social crisis is one of the most pressing questions for all intelligent men who realize the power of religion, and most of all for the religious leaders of the people who give direction to the forces of religion” (xii).
  • The writings of the prophets are the foundational biblical precedent for R’s program: “However our views of the Bible may change, every religious man will continue to recognize that to the elect minds of the Jewish people God gave so vivid a consciousness of the divine will that, in its main tendencies at least, their life and thought carry a permanent authority for all who wish to know the higher right of God. Their writings are like channel buoys anchored by God, and we shall do well to heed them now that the roar of an angry surf is in our ears” (2-3).
  • Juxtaposing ceremony and morality, R emphasizes that the prophets focused solely on moral conduct, not on external matters of divine appeasement: “The prophets demanded right moral conduct as the sole test and fruit of religion, and that the morality which they had in mind was not the private morality of detached pious souls but the social morality of the nation. This they preached, and they backed their preaching by active participation in public action and discussion” (11).
  • A summary of the significance of the prophets: “If anyone holds that religion is essentially ritual and sacramental; or that it is purely personal; or that God is on the side of the rich; or that social interest is likely to lead preachers astray; he must prove his case with his eye on the Hebrew prophets, and the burden of proof is with him” (43).
  • R calls for a transformative ethic: “Ascetic Christianity called the world evil and left it. Humanity is waiting for a revolutionary Christianity which will call the world evil and change it…. Jesus was not a mere social reformer. Religion was the heart of his life, and all that he said on social relations was said from the religious point of view. He has been called the first socialist. He was more; he was the first real man, the inaugurator of a new humanity. But as such he bore within him the germs of a new social and political order. He was too great to be the Saviour of a fractional part of human life. His redemption extends to all human needs and powers and relations” (91).
  • Anticipating the basis for the ecumenical movement: “Common work for social welfare is the best common ground for the various religious bodies and the best training school for practical Christian unity” (340).
  • The prophetic role of the pastor: “The ministry, in particular, must apply the teaching functions of the pulpit to the pressing questions of public morality. It must collectively learn not to speak without adequate information; not to charge individuals with guilt in which all society shares; not to be partial, and yet to be on the side of the lost; not to yield to particular partisanship, but to deal with moral questions before they become political issues and with those questions of public welfare which never do become political issues” (412).
  • An indictment of industrial society: “The force of the religious spirit should be bent toward asserting the supremacy of life over property. Property exists to maintain and develop life. It is unchristian to regard human life as a mere instrument for the production of wealth” (413).
  • An attack on property rights, broadly defined: “The most fundamental evils in past history and present conditions were due to converting stewardship into ownership. The keener moral insight created by Christianity should lend its help in scrutinizing all claims to property and power in order to detect latent public rights and to recall the recreant stewards to their duty” (413). Presumably stewardship practically requires some sort of property rights, however.
  • This would be news to missionaries around the world today: “The championship of social justice is almost the only way left open to a Christian nowadays to gain the crown of martyrdom. Theological heretics are rarely persecuted now. The only rival of God is Mammon, and it is only when his sacred name is blasphemed that men throw the Christians to the lions” (418).
  • It must be noted that R was writing before WWI and WII: “Humanity is gaining in elasticity and capacity for change, and every gain in general intelligence, in organizing capacity, in physical and moral soundness, and especially in responsiveness to ideal motives, again increases the ability to advance without disastrous reactions. The swiftness of evolution in our own country proves the immense latent perfectibility in human nature” (422).

There are a number of problems with Paul Krugman’s NYT piece earlier this week, “A Socialist Plot.” Krugman compares the American educational system to its healthcare system, arguing that because Americans aren’t inclined to disparage the former as a socialist threat, we likewise shouldn’t consider universal healthcare as a “socialist plot.”

“The truth is that there’s no difference in principle between saying that every American child is entitled to an education and saying that every American child is entitled to adequate health care. It’s just a matter of historical accident that we think of access to free K-12 education as a basic right, but consider having the government pay children’s medical bills ‘welfare,’ with all the negative connotations that go with that term,” says Krugman.

Krugman assumes that a defense of private versus public education is indefensible. After hypothesizing about making a case for abolition of public education, he purrs to his NYT audience who have never considered any practical option besides the government administration of education, “O.K., in case you’re wondering, I haven’t lost my mind.” Clearly to even consider getting rid of public education is insane.

First, let’s make a basic distinction between government mandates and government provision. The government mandates that I have car insurance before I take my car out for a spin, but I don’t sign up with the government for that car insurance. In the same way, drawing my own analogy, government could mandate K-12 education without being the primary provider of said education.

And as far as socialists plots go, government provided education should be ranked right up there. Even social observers who are largely sympathetic to socialism see the administration of public education primarily in terms of its utility as a means of social control rather than as a means of inculcating truth. Thus says Reinhold Niebuhr: “While education is potential power, because it enables the disinherited to protect their own interests by organised and effective methods, the dominant classes have suppressed their fears about education by the thought that education could be used as a means for inculcating submissiveness.” Whether the dominant class is the bourgeois or a politburo, public education as social control is a real concern.

Kristoff concludes, “We offer free education, and don’t worry about middle-class families getting benefits they don’t need, because that’s the only way to ensure that every child gets an education — and giving every child a fair chance is the American way. And we should guarantee health care to every child, for the same reason.” Socialism, apparently, is the American way. And middle-class families that send their kids to private schools aren’t “getting benefits they don’t need,” they are paying via taxes, often dearly, for education they don’t want.

There is an analogy between health insurance, car insurance, and education. It may be that the government mandate that all Americans have health insurance (although I doubt such a policy’s prudence), and yet not become the primary provider of such health insurance. Where market forces fail, nonprofits, charities, community groups, and churches must fill the gap. BlueCross and BlueShield is a nonprofit health insurance association providing coverage for about 1/3 of the American population. If need be tax credits and other incentives could be extended to promote private financing of such initiatives.

For more on the push for socialized health care in the US, check out this week’s commentary, “What’s Wacko about Sicko.”

The City of Atlanta, and several other cities, have been debating whether or not to pass a law prohibiting saggy pants. Here’s the story from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Atlanta officials did not decide Tuesday whether they should become fashion police.

However, they did agree to continue to debate whether the city should regulate whether folks can walk around Atlanta with saggy pants and exposed undies. Council members expect to create a 10- to 12-member task force soon to further the debate and decide whether Atlanta should — or can — pass a law to control fashion.

Either way, the issue drew heated discussion from a crowd of about 55 who packed the first City Council committee debate on the subject Tuesday afternoon. Here’s what some folks had to say:

Dave Walker, East Atlanta:
“We got old and forgot there are fads. They come and they go and no legislation is going to get rid of natural trends. We have no right to legislate what folks wear.”

James Allen, Atlanta: “It bothers me as a black man. They dress down. They talk down. Some of the things they do are downright low down. It sickens me. We need to teach them in a way they will become prospects, not suspects.”

Yemaya Bourdain, senior at Clark Atlanta University: “This is absolutely asinine. I can’t believe this is the best you guys can come up with. As if we don’t have enough already targeting our black youth. Who can this help?”

Clyde Wilson, Atlanta:
“It is a problem. Not just the men wear their clothes down; the women do. If you dress like a prostitute, they are going to treat you like one.”

Naomi Ward, Atlanta:
“I am supportive of the ordinance. It is not just unsightly. It is what it represents. It is restrictive and constrictive. It restricts the physical movement. And it constricts the mind.”

Are you kidding me? A law? Is this the best use of the law? We are moving closer and closer to a police state. Here’s why this is silly:

(1) The law won’t change the mentality that says, “wearing pants below my butt is a good thing.” How is a law going to change that? Oh wait, this does work, right? Making the drinking age 21 sure has curbed “under age drinking.”

(2) How do you enforce a crazy law like this? How many inches below the waist will be illegal? Will police officers need to get outfitted with a special holster for tape measure alongside their guns and handcuffs?

Ok, saggy pants are unpleasant to look at but I’m not sure wearing pants low should be illegal. What aren’t we, instead, seeking to affect the mentality that embraces saggy pants as good? Maybe we want to pass a law because changing a mind-set would require getting personally involved in the lives of people who wear saggy pants. We would much rather pass a silly law than to roll up our sleeves and sacrifice our own time to offer those individuals a different vision for their own dignity. This requires time and energy and it comes with with no guarantees for change. It’s risky.

Laws of this type expose our own apathy to show real compassion and commitment to those people with whom we disapprove. Is it possible that those who seek such laws don’t see those that wear baggy pants as human beings who can be reasoned with and persuaded to behave otherwise? “These people are stupid, pass a law,” the law-seekers conclude. If you want a kid to stop wearing his pants below his butt then personally get involved in his life. This is how true virtue is cultivated–from one person to another. Passing fashion laws will not cultivate character, virtue, nor wisdom. It’s an impersonal, materialist solution to a problem that needs personal attention and care.

Has anyone ever thought about the fact that saggy pants may be cry for help?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The relation of the creation account and the narrative of the flood in Genesis is a complex one. One of these linkages comes in the similarities of the mandates set forth by God in both accounts.

The sixteenth-century reformer Wolfgang Musculus identifies three mandates in the creation account (in addition to the specific prescription regarding the tree of life). The first of these is the procreation mandate: “Be fruitful and increase in number.” The second is the dominion mandate, flowing from the first: “fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” The third mandate relates to sustenance of life: “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”

Musculus notes that each of these elements are reiterated in the flood account. God says to Noah, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” He also says, “The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.” And finally God says, “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”

In this recapitulation the procreation mandate seems unchanged. The dominion mandate seems to be marked now by a relationship of antipathy, characterized “fear and dread” rather than benevolence. And thirdly, God expands the provision of human sustenance beyond plants to include eating of animals.

I’d like to focus on this third point, while noting that the change of the relationship noted in the second point is no doubt related to the inclusion of animals as fit for human consumption. Animals would have reason to fear being eaten now, for instance.

There’s been a great deal of reflection on the meaning of God’s adjustment of the creation mandate to include animals as the source of human food. Some commentators have focused on the need for the new human family to have ready sources of protein and nutrients that might not otherwise be available in the post-diluvian world. Related to this, if it’s true, as many vegetarians would have us believe that eating meat is unhealthy, it may be a way for God to ensure that the human lifespan would be limited: “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

As I’ve noted in another context, the expansion of the food mandate to include animals is a reflection of the comprehensive corruption of the Fall. Sin has marred the created harmony of the relationship between humans and animals.

Here, however, I’d like to speculate on another aspect of the extension of this mandate to include animals. Given the nature of fallen humankind, focused on inordinate and idolatrous self-love (cor curvum se, as Anselm puts it), God may be testifying to the fallen-ness of the human/animal relationship and simultaneously providing incentive for fallen humanity to take an active and interested role in stewardship of the animal kingdom.

By linking human survival to dependence on animals for food, God has set in place a relationship that will tend to mirror, if even in a fallen and imperfect way, the original responsibility of human beings to exercise stewardship and dominion over the created order. Human beings now have a basic motivation from self-interest from survival to economic prosperity to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

As many economic observers have noted, a key way to ensure survival of a species is to commodify that species for human consumption in one form or another. There is no lack of cows in America primarily because there is an economic motivation for farmers to keep sustainable herds to meet consumer demand.

There is of course no guarantee that unbounded greed and short-sightedness will short-circuit the economically-savvy self-interest that manifests itself in sustaining a reliable and long-term source of animal products. For a case in point, see Eric Dolin’s new book, Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America (interviews here and here, reviewed here). While the whaling industry provided foundational means for economic development in colonial New England, it was a lack of perspective that allowed these populations to be hunted near extinction (see the case of the right whale, for instance).

The key here is note that enlightened self-interest, as opposed to base and short-sighted greed, manifests itself in an impulse to protect sustainable sources of animal products. In this way economic development and the protection of species are not in fundamental opposition, as so many environmentalists have construed laws like the Endangered Species Act.

Fox News reports:

The nation’s poverty rate dropped last year, the first significant decline since President Bush took office. The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that 36.5 million Americans, or 12.3 percent — were living in poverty last year. That’s down from 12.6 percent in 2005. The median household income was $48,200, a slight increase from the previous year. But the number of people without health insurance also increased, to 47 million.

The last significant decline in the poverty rate came in 2000, during the Clinton administration. In 2005, the poverty rate dipped from 12.7 percent to 12.6 percent, but Census officials said that change was statistically insignificant.

The poverty numbers are good economic news at a time when financial markets have been rattled by a slumping housing market. However, the numbers released Tuesday represent economic conditions from a year ago.

The poverty level is the official measure used to decide eligibility for federal health, housing, nutrition and child care benefits. It differs by family size and makeup. For a family of four with two children, for example, the poverty level is $20,444. The poverty rate — the percentage of people living below poverty — helps shape the debate on the health of the nation’s economy.

Robert Rector, of the Heritage Foundation, reminds us of what it means to live as “the poor” in America:

The following are facts about persons defined as “poor” by the Census Bureau, taken from various government reports:

* Forty-six percent of all poor households actually own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

* Seventy-six percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

* Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

* The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)

* Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars.

* Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

* Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.

* Seventy-three percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a third have an automatic dishwasher.

Important items to remember:

(1) Those living “in poverty” is never a static population. People cycle in and out of poverty over time.
(2) Unemployment numbers remain steady. Both the number of unemployed persons (7.1 million) and the unemployment rate (4.6 percent) were about unchanged in July. The jobless rate has ranged
from 4.4 to 4.6 percent since September 2006. (Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics)
(3) Raising the minimum wage will not reduce the poverty rate but increasing the number of jobs will in the short-term.
(4) The low-skilled labor market continues to experience job loss due to advances in technology (robots, “self-check out” lanes, etc.)
(5) There has been considerable job growth since 2003. On August 3, The Bureau Of Labor Statistics released new jobs figures. Since August 2003, more than 8.3 million jobs have been created, with more than 1.8 million jobs created over the twelve months ending in July. Our economy has now added jobs for 47 straight months.
(6) According to White House data:

(a) Real GDP Grew At A Strong 3.4 Percent In The Second Quarter Of 2007. The economy has now experienced nearly six years of uninterrupted growth, averaging 2.7 percent a year since 2001.

(b) Real After-Tax Per Capita Personal Income Has Risen By 11.4 Percent

(c) Real Wages Rose 1.3 Percent Over The 12 Months Ending In June. This is faster than the average rate during the 1990s, and it means an extra $782 in the past year for a family with two average wage earners.

(d) Since The First Quarter Of 2001, Productivity Growth Has Averaged 2.8 Percent Per Year. This is well above the average productivity growth in the 1990s, 1980s, and 1970s.

In the end, the current poverty rate reduction is simply a result of a combination of the factors listed above. In order to continue reductions in poverty the business sector needs more freedom to create jobs to meet the needs of our changing communities. Tax burdens and frivolous government regulation continue to stifle entrepreneurial creativity and innovation. Additionally, the moral dimensions of poverty need continued attention by the various mediating institutions like the church and other non-profits. Poverty is multi-layered and material solutions alone will not bring about long-term reductions.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, August 28, 2007

When the sign for one of those payday lending stores went up on the corner a block away from my house, I have to say I was less than enthusiastic.

The standard response in a market economy to “market failure” is for a nonprofit to fill the gap in services or meet the need. Today’s NYT reports on efforts in the short-term loan industry to meet that need. As it stands in the market system, “Payday loan stores, which barely existed 15 years ago, now outnumber most fast-food franchises. Typically a customer borrows a few hundred dollars in exchange for a check, postdated to the next payday, made out in the amount of the principal plus a fee of $15 to $22 per $100 borrowed.” 22 dollars every two weeks works out to about 572 percent annual interest.

The troubling part of this is that those who are most likely to need these kinds of loans are the poor, people who are hit the hardest by higher rates of interest. It’s also clear that they are making some very poor fiscal decisions.

Nonprofit groups are in the early stages of setting up programs to help ameliorate the situation. GoodMoney, a joint venture of Goodwill Industries and Prospera Credit Union, charges about half of what for profit lenders charge. That still works out to over 200 percent interest annually, but “Of the $9.90 that GoodMoney charges per $100 borrowed, nearly half goes to writing off bad loans, Mr. Eiden said, and the rest to database service and administrative costs.” In the case of Ms. Truckey, profiled in the NYT piece, because of GoodMoney, “A few dollars from each payment go into a savings account, the first she has had in years.”

Programs like GoodMoney are still in their infancy and it’s clear that charging some level of interest might be a necessary part of encouraging responsibility and promoting independence on the part of the borrower. And market levels of interest approaching 600 percent per annum seem a bit like throwing someone in debtors prison if they can’t pay back a loan: there’s simply no way out of the mounting debt.

Now whether or not the amount that GoodMoney is charging isn’t precisely clear (there are no entries for GoodMoney at either GuideStar or Charity Navigator, and GoodMoney’s website doesn’t seem to disclose a breakdown of the programs expenses), but the enterprise itself is an interesting exercise in meeting the needs coming out of a pretty clear instance of market failure.